New Hall of Famers Julie Abbey and Don Hillebrand (center) were welcomed by past inductees (from left) Mark Pardini, Tom Balistreri, Jackie King, George “Skip” Ignaczak, Kevin Werner and Ron Bemis.

Hillebrand, Abbey enter BrandSource’s hallowed halls

By Andy Kriege, YSN

Two renowned BrandSource members, Don Hillebrand of Don’s Appliances in Pittsburgh and Julie Abbey of Appliance Center Furniture & Mattress in Toledo, Ohio, were inducted into the AVB Hall of Fame yesterday for their lifetime of achievement within the group and the industry.

The ceremony took place during a main stage presentation at BrandSource’s Convention 2023 in Nashville.

Don Hillebrand

Don Hillebrand’s remarkable retail odyssey began in the early 1960s when he walked into a Maytag store with a help wanted sign in the window just looking for work. A few short years later Don made the fateful decision to strike out his own and started Don’s Appliances in 1971.

Don Hillebrand

Working tirelessly from early morning until late in the evening, Don was the driving force that turned the fledgling one-man business into a regional powerhouse. Today the company has 12 locations and employs over 175 people selling appliances and plumbing products to customers from Pittsburgh to West Virginia.

 “The reason we have had so much success here is that I’ve always focused on the customer first and we’ve never lost sight of putting the customer’s needs above all else,” he said in a pre-taped video played at the induction ceremony. “I only took to business so far; it was my boys who took it over the top.”

Don’s son Tim contends it was the hard work of his father to which the business owes its tremendous growth and success. “Without his sacrifice none of this would be possible,” Tim said. “In the early days he was in the store or doing service calls all day long. He only came home briefly for dinner, and he then went back to the store to do deliveries. He is without doubt the hardest-working person I have ever known.”

Julie Abbey

Julie Abbey took the reins of the business her father Chuck Oswald started over 60 years ago and ran with it. Today, Appliance Center Furniture & Mattress has three Toledo-area locations, over 150 employees, more than 200 brands of appliances and furniture, and $7 million in inventory.

Julie Abbey

Julie’s role there was not a foregone conclusion. Before joining the family business she earned a law degree and had career aspirations that did not include retailing. But helping out at the store for “a day” turned into an amazing 37-year journey of selling — not to live, but to give. Julie and her husband John have long supported many local and international charities, donating countless hours and millions of dollars to those in need. 

 “I have no regrets in not pursuing my law career,” she said. “I realized early on that my career goals were centered around helping people. It did not matter to me whether it was providing legal services or selling refrigerators and couches; what mattered to me was being able to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Slipping on the traditional Hall of Fame Jacket at the induction ceremony, Julie told attendees, “I’m really humbled and honored to join this group. I’m so grateful to my family and all who have helped me along on this amazing journey.”

Hillebrand and Abbey represent the fourth generation of Hall of Famers, following  the class of 2022, which included the late Mark Reckling of Grand Appliance and Mark Pardini of Pardini Appliance & Mattress. They were preceded by the class of 2021, which included Jackie King of Nampa Appliance TV & Mattress, Tom Balistreri of Colders’ Furniture, Appliances and Mattresses, former AVB BrandSource board member George “Skip” Ignaczak and AVB’s own Member Relations GM Kevin Werner.

The AVB Hall of Fame was created in 2019 as a way to recognize those who have gone over and above in their service to the industry. The inaugural class honored Ron Bemis of Bemis Appliance, John Horst of Famous Tate Appliance & Bedding Centers and the late Bill Pleasants Sr. of Plaza Appliance Mart. The award took a one-year hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Congratulations Julie and Don!

YSN publisher AVB BrandSource is the nation’s largest merchandising and marketing co-op for independent appliance, mattress, furniture and CE dealers.

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